All for One, One for All

Reminiscent of the Three Musketeers, the grand bargain requires all elements of the deal to pass for any to pass, which looks sweet for Republicans, but could be awkward for some Democrats.One of the under-reported features of the Grand Bargain is the "everything must pass or nothing passes" part of the agreement.

That was always the implicit understanding when the grand bargain involved public employee retirement reductions and tax increases to generate more money for K-12 schools. 

But the deal has expanded to include small business tax cuts and a local pre-emption on genetically modified crops. That expansion has altered the political math. 

First, a quick lesson about Oregon legislative procedure, which doesn't allow multi-subject omnibus bills. Congress can stuff Brussels sprouts and brownies into the same legislative stew so there is something to like for almost everybody. In Oregon, lawmakers pretty much have to vote on each major provision separately.

Now back to the grand bargain. It appears to require five bills — two to trim PERS benefits, one to raise taxes and provide for a small business tax cut, one for the GMO pre-emption and one to appropriate money for K-12 schools, other educational institutions and community mental health. 

For legislative Republicans, all of those are sweet votes. For legislative Democrats, three of the five cut against key constituencies — public employees and environmental groups opposed to pre-empting local bans on GMO crops. 

Much has already been written about the give-and-take on PERS cuts and tax hikes. A deal was close during the 2013 regular session, but didn't quite make it over the finish line, in part because it failed to include small business tax cuts pushed by GOP Senators Larry George and Brian Boquist.

To move Republican leaders off the sidelines in the interim evidently required more give from Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber and the leaders of the House and Senate. That "give" included a modified small business tax cut George and Boquist wanted, plus the local GMO crop pre-emption. To avoid a bait-and-switch, Republicans negotiated the all-pass strategy to ensure the local GMO pre-emption didn't fall by the wayside.

There is likely a back story to the local GMO pre-emption. Paulette Pyle, who lobbies for the pesticide industry, has also been a political enforcer to ensure members of the Republican caucus don't drift far from the party line, especially on critical tax votes. What better way to invest Pyle and her allies in the grand bargain than to give her a piece of the action. 

In the great scheme of things, the pending deal, which lawmakers will consider when they go into special session next Monday, isn't all that unusual. What makes it interesting is that the political cost definitely went up for Democrats to scrounge another $100 million for public schools and $20 million from a cigarette tax boost to pay for community mental health. 

Lawmakers are holding hearings on the five legislative concepts the latter part of this week. There has been a growing grassroots effort to sidetrack the local GMO pre-emption. House Democrats, who managed to bury a similar provision during the regular session, may find themselves in the same posture as Texas GOP Senator Ted Cruz on defunding Obamacare — showing the flag, but ultimately surrendering.

Working out the politics of all this, especially in the House Democratic caucus, could stretch the special session beyond a single day. Chances are good, enough votes — maybe just enough — will be found for the elements all to pass. It helps to have the air cover of a popular governor who bartered the deal. But a calculator probably will come in handy, too.